Which goaltender will prevail when the New York Rangers battle the Montreal Canadiens? Will it be Henrik Lundqvist or Carey Price?
The Habs have won the battle against the Ottawa Senators, clinching the Atlantic division title. Similarly, the Blueshirts have solidified their position in the top wild card slot with the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning now unable to catch the Blueshirts over the remaining three games.
The Rangers dodged a bullet by avoiding the highly skilled Metropolitan division. The Atlantic division will provide an easier path to the conference final, but not a cakewalk.
Don’t forget the Montreal Canadiens, much like the New York Rangers, were one of the best teams in the NHL for the first three months. The struggles the Canadiens faced in the second half of the season mirror the same struggles the New York Rangers have been enduring since the new year.
Defensively, both teams have suffered through their struggles. Luckily for the Rangers, their defensive corps are now healthy.
On the offensive side of the puck, both teams have the ability to light the lamp at will. New York has scored 252 goals with a + 39 goal differential while Montreal has scored 220 goals with a +28 differential. While Montreal plays a physical grinding game, the Rangers can kill a team with their speed.
It’s the classic example of an unstoppable force hitting an immovable object.
Who Will Win? The Answer is in the Goaltending
The last time the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens met in the Stanley Cup playoffs was 2014. The makeup of that series was drastically altered when Chris Kreider was tripped (Rangers fans) or purposively lost an edge (Canadiens fans) causing him to crash into Carey Price.
The injury would remove Price and the Canadiens from playoff contention. The Rangers would go on to the Stanley Cup and fall short to the Los Angeles Kings in five games.
There is no question that revenge will be on the mind of the Montreal Canadiens. Carey Price will have a personal vendetta against not only Kreider, but New York as a whole. That smells like trouble for the Rangers.
To put it bluntly, Carey Price owns the New York Rangers. His numbers are scary for Rangers Fans, laughable to a certain extent. The man is the real deal. Something about New York fires him up, allowing him to take his game to the next level.
Carey Price's career numbers vs. the Rangers are insane: 15-5-1, 1.82 GAA, .940 sv%, 7 shutouts.
— TheNYRBlog (@kevindelury) April 4, 2017
Now in fairness, these are regular season numbers. The Playoffs are a completely different beast. Price has a 2.62 GAA and a .912 save percentage in his 54 career playoff games.
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Unfortunately for the New York Rangers, Carey Price had his best performance in the playoffs last season. During his 12 playoff games last year, he sported a 2.23 GAA and a .920 save percentage. Even more worrisome is that Price hasn’t given up more than two goals in his last four games this season.
Price has the ability to be a game-changer in this year’s opening round versus the New York Rangers. The Blueshirts will have to try and expose him early and often to have a chance to defeat the Canadiens.
There is no hiding that Henrik Lundqvist has had a roller coaster year. Hank lovers and haters alike can debate whether his game has dwindled, the defense has struggled in front of him, or any combination of the two. The bottom line? His performance has to improve in order to take down arguably the best goalie in the NHL, Carey Price.
Hank thrives on the spotlight. Hell, he plays in New York. Whether it be the Stanley Cup playoffs or the Olympics (you can cry about the NHL not participating next year here), Henrik takes his game to the next level. Barring the awful 15 goals surrendered in five games against the Pittsburgh Penguins last season, Henrik has shown up to play in the playoffs. His career GAA holds at 2.28 with a .921 save percentage.
The math is simple. If Lundqvist can perform like the Hank of old, we have a chance to take down the Canadiens. If he gives us subpar performances, this series will end very quickly. Henrik has been able to steal games in the playoffs in the past. The Rangers will need all they can get from the netminder as they continue to struggle on the defensive side of the puck.
Regardless of the outcome of the series, hockey fans are poised to enjoy an exciting matchup between two teams who can win the Stanley Cup when churning on all cylinders. Expect the series to go the distance likely ending in six or seven games. Look for the Rangers to continue their road success and steal some games in Montreal.